UST president sees with gratitude, hope amidst record growth

November 28, 2023

Dr. Richard Ludwick is the is the 9th president of the University of St. Thomas. (Photo courtesy of the University of St. Thomas)

HOUSTON — When Dr. Richard Ludwick, president of the University of St. Thomas (UST) in Houston, speaks about the current life and future of the city’s only Catholic university, his eyes have a distinct sparkle, and it’s not just his glasses.

During a recent interview with the Texas Catholic Herald, he reflected on his journey to UST and what inspires him in the students, faculty and staff of the school’s growing community.

At the end of the 2023 fall semester, Ludwick will mark his six-and-a-half year anniversary at the school, which is located in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, with its stark 30-foot black-and-white granite wall and the soaring golden dome of the Chapel of St. Basil marking the school’s 76-year presence near corner of Montrose and West Alabama streets.

In August, the school welcomed its largest incoming undergraduate class of 803 students. The record-setting growth comes with its challenges, however.

Even with plans to build new on-campus housing, the school is currently operating at 160% capacity for university housing, so only a lucky few 400-plus students, both graduate and undergraduate, can find a bed at the university.

On its leafy park-like campus that spans some 19 square city blocks, the university has expanded with new constructions and programs. The newer Center for Science and Health Professions houses the school’s successful STEM and nursing programs, and additional degree offerings meet the needs of many, including Catholic catechists working in the Church’s Hispanic ministries through the Centro Semillero and Catholic literary arts.

UST also offers the nation’s only program with a degree path dedicated to neurodiverse students, including those living with learning differences and disabilities.

Even with such growth already cemented, Ludwick looks to a “bright future,” he said, with plans to build residence halls and renovate facilities for new and existing programs.
“There’s a demand, a desire for students to be here,” he said. Offering students a place to sleep, pray, eat and study isn’t a “a matter of convenience,” but it’s part of the “formation of the human person for the flourishing of the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives them.”

“It’s an imperative that we do this,” Ludwick said, “and it cannot happen soon enough.”

Some of the school’s programs and degrees may ebb and flow as a reflection of the students’ and marketplace needs, “there are certain programs that will remain” as part of a Catholic university’s curriculum and programming, namely philosophy and theology, Ludwick said.

He said what he found most challenging at UST — such as personnel and people issues — to also be the most rewarding.

“[We] hope to see each other as the image of God, understanding that in the human condition, we are all flawed, but we are all also gifted in so many ways,” he said. “That’s the hardest piece because I want so much for everyone... God finds us sometimes in our most broken states, and that’s not what we want to see, but sometimes that’s what happens. On the converse side, you see the great brilliance of that image of God shining through all those faults, and it’s something that is so magical and beautiful... It really shows the depth of the human experience.”

A reason to be thankful

Perhaps Thanksgiving has more significance for Ludwick than most, considering he was born on the November holiday, a memorable moment for Ludwick’s mother and his family.

His future wife, Melynda Ludwick, was also born on the same day, and every five years, their birthdays coincide with the November holiday.

Recalling a Thanksgiving celebration that gathered his whole family at his grandma’s house, when the turkey sat next to his fifth birthday cake, Ludwick said he is thankful for the family that God drew together around him, both by blood and by community.

“Sometimes they don’t always get along, but it is that way the human family as a whole — we learn to look past those things and into the hearts where goodness resides.”

Ludwick said he hopes to see growth in a seamless relationship with the Archdiocese and UST and that with both being part of “God’s family,” as a community of Catholic parishes, schools and high schools, organizations and ministries spread around the Archdiocese, “we have a chance to encounter the living God to not only follow Him but to see where He lives. He invites all of us on that journey into His home. And that’s the piece that I continue to think about as we look to the evangelization of our world and to share the Good News.”

Ludwick recalled an experience of walking with a student who was struggling with a recent diagnosis of Stargardt disease, a macular dystrophy that causes loss of central vision, which Ludwick also has.

When the student told Ludwick of his diagnosis, Ludwick replied: “Great! That’s awesome, so do I,” surprising the student.

Their conversation wound through the student’s immigrant life, coming to the U.S. with no English, playing soccer until he couldn’t see the ball, and about where his life would go with visual impairment.

Ludwick pointed towards graduate school, something he had done himself, and a few years later, the first-generation college student and English speaker visited Ludwick and “was just alive... happy and thriving” as a soccer coach, teacher and father.

He faced challenges with great hope, Ludwick said. “The University [of St. Thomas] is a catalyst for good. So when there are inspirational stories like that that happen every day, we know that the spirit of God is at work in the hearts of what happens here.”